Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Guide for Small Business Owners

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Table of Contents

Who is this guide for?

This guide is intended for small business owners or beginner website developers. It explains the role of SEO in online marketing in a simplified format for those who are just getting started. It is not intended for those who are looking for instruction in more advanced SEO practices.

picture of hand clicking SEO with upward arrow

Definition of SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the process of improving the quality and quantity of visitors directed to a website or a web page from search engines using unpaid methods.

In other words, SEO helps your website appear higher in Google or Bing search results for specific keywords. This is important if you want your business to be found by the right people.

How does SEO work?

Search engines use crawlers to read through your site’s front-end and back-end content to determine the relevance and ranking it assigns to it for each search term. This is why it’s important to know the specific ways your website can improve in search engine ranking.

10 Strategies for Improving Your SEO Rankings

Many people pay for SEO professionals to help improve their site’s rankings. There are also digital marketers or website developers who will work on SEO as part of their package.

If you don’t want to pay an SEO expert to improve your search engine rankings, there are some steps you can take on your own to ensure that the right people are able to find you online.

1. Define your business.

Determine who your audience is first. Are you a local business or a global one? If you are a Thai restaurant in Seattle, your goal is to rank against local competitors, whereas if you are selling your art online you are probably not looking to rank by location. For local businesses, there are different tools (such as Google Business Profile) that you can use online to rank higher.

2. Determine which search terms and keywords you want to rank for.

Once you know who you are marketing to, figure out what search terms they are entering and use these keywords on your website. Typically, the wider your scope is, the harder it will be to rank, so be as specific as possible. You can include some of the broader keywords but be sure to include the more niche keywords (also known as “long-tail keywords”) as well.

For example, it may be easier to rank for “best Danish in Seattle” than it is to rank for “best bakery in Seattle.” Once you have figured out which keywords you want to use, you should include them in your URLs/domain names, in the content of web pages/posts, or in your back-end code (meta descriptions and alt tags, for example).

3. Ensure that your site is organized and well-built with relevant content.

Your site should be robust and well-designed with working links and engaging material (the longer people stay on your site, the better it will rank in future search results). Regularly update your website and be sure it includes quality content that is focused on your specific keywords. Search engines can identify “bad content” or “filler”; clean code, organized site navigation, and keyword-focused content that keeps your readers engaged will help you rank higher with search engines.

4. Use a Content Management System (CMS) with built-in SEO tools.

WordPress, Wix, Shopify, and Squarespace are all examples of CMS, but there are many others. WordPress comes with a default “All in One Plugin” that will assist with SEO, although there are additional plugins on WordPress you can explore such as Yoast SEO. Wix SEO Wiz is another beginner friendly option that comes with some Wix website building packages, while Shopify online stores have SEO built-in as well as features to help you optimize your content.

5. Use a sitemap.

A sitemap is especially useful if you have a large website with many pages, images, and videos. A sitemap is an index of your website that helps search engines find, crawl, and assess your website’s content. Be sure to note: a sitemap is NOT the same as your navigation bar. It is a file that you create that can be used by search engines to more easily assess your site.

Sitemaps tell search engines which pages on your site are the most important. If you have a WordPress website, Yoast SEO will create your sitemap for you. There are many other free tools that can build one for you, such as Google XML Sitemap or Once you have created a sitemap you can enter it into Google Search Console (see strategy #7 for more information). 

place to enter your website URL to create a sitemap on

Search engines see links to your pages as valuable. You should set up social media accounts for your business and link them to your site. You can also cross link between pages throughout your website if you have a large enough site.

Additionally, find other websites that will link to your site, such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angi’s List, or other online directories. Links to your site from other sites are called backlinks and these can help improve your rankings. 

7. Use free tools to help improve your rankings.

If you have a brick and mortar or service-oriented business, you should sign up for a free Google Business Profile. It is very important to ensure that your information is up-to-date and accurate in Google search results. You can also set up an account with Google Search Console or Google Analytics, both of which offer some free services—although there are paid options as well.

Google Search Console helps you monitor your website’s performance both overall and in search engine results, while Google Analytics helps you learn more about your users, including who they are, how they found you, and how they interact with your website. The difference is that Google Search Console suggests measures for SEO that drive traffic through search engines and Google Analytics lets you monitor a complete picture of traffic through Marketing campaigns, social media, and search engines.

overview of Google Business Profile with Detroit Voltage example

8. Make your website mobile-friendly.

These days, search engines value mobile-friendly sites because more and more people use their phones to search for content, so improving your website’s performance on mobile devices can be an easy way to improve your SEO results. You can test your website for mobile-friendliness easily at Google’s Mobile Friendly Test.

9. Stay relevant.

SEO is always changing. You should regularly research SEO techniques to see if there are any updates or changes with SEO practices. One recent development that is likely to impact SEO is the use of A.I. through ChatGPT and Bing.

These A.I.-driven bots could revolutionize online marketing, among many other industries. Since this technology is so new, it is hard to say exactly how A.I. will change digital marketing and web content, but it’s clearly making an impact. For now, you can use A.I. to research targeted keywords to use on your website.  Here’s some specific ways A.I can help, according to ChatGPT:

list of ways ChatGPT can help with SEO insights including content and on page optimization, link building, and technical SEO

“In summary, Chat GPT can help with various tasks related to SEO, including generating optimized content, enhancing on-page elements, and supporting link building efforts.”


10. Check out your competition.

You should know who else is trying to rank for the same keywords as you. Try googling your keywords to see what websites come up. Check out the sites of your competitors and take note of what seems to work well for them, as well as what you could improve upon. Make sure your website is distinct and specialized, with some element that sets it apart from these. Revisit the target audience you identified earlier and consider how you can make your site stand out for them.

Search engine optimization takes work, but you don’t have to do it all. Even just incorporating a few of these strategies will get you on your way to ranking higher. You can break these steps down into more manageable tasks to improve one or two areas at a time. This guide is a starting point, and if you have time and interest, there is much more you can learn about SEO. 

Resources for further reading:

Written by Helen Halpern, edited by Marina Donovan, and produced by Kathryn Staublin.

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